UPDATED: Riot police have been called out and several students have been arrested at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university on Wednesday ahead of a planned screening of a controversial BBC documentary on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is blocked in India.
The Indian government has used its emergency powers to block the documentary on social media.
On Tuesday, the left wing Students Federation of India had put up details of the proposed screening on Facebook. On Wednesday, riot police arrested members of the group and allowed only students writing exams to enter the campus.
A screening of the documentary at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru university on Tuesday evening was disrupted when university authorities turned off electricity and the internet connection in the student union office. Hundreds of students watched the documentary on their mobile phones and laptops instead and went on a protest march after.
The managements of both universities had threatened disciplinary action if the documentary was screened.
The first episode of the two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” aired on BBC Two on Jan. 17 and the second part on Jan. 24.
PREVIOUSLY: The Indian government has slammed a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, dismissing it as “propaganda,” but the corporation is sticking to its guns.
The first episode of the two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” aired on BBC Two on Jan. 17.
The episode description on the BBC website says: “Narendra Modi’s premiership has been dogged by persistent allegations about the attitude of his government towards India’s Muslim population. This series investigates the truth behind these allegations and examines Modi’s backstory to explore other questions about his politics when it comes to India’s largest religious minority.”
The documentary has not been screened in India.
On Jan. 19, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “Do note that this has not been screened in India. So, I am only going to comment in the context of what I have heard about it and what my colleagues have seen. Let me just make it very clear that we think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible.”
“If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again. It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it and frankly we do not wish to dignify such efforts,” Bagchi added.
A BBC spokesperson told Variety: “The BBC is committed to highlighting important issues from around the world. The documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores the politics of India’s PM Narendra Modi in relation to those tensions. This has been the source of considerable reporting and interest both in India and across the world in recent years.”
“The documentary was rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards. A wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions – this includes responses from people in the BJP [India’s ruling party]. We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series – it declined to respond,” the spokesperson added.
The documentary addresses the 2002 communal riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat, of which Modi was Chief Minister at the time, that left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead, per official numbers. A decade later, a Special Investigation Team appointed by India’s Supreme Court exonerated Modi, saying that the leader had taken steps to control the situation.
On Jan. 18, U.K. member of parliament Imran Hussain, quoted the documentary during Prime Minister’s Questions, saying senior diplomats reported that the massacre could not have taken place without the “climate of impunity” created by Modi and that he was, in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office words, “directly responsible” for the violence.
Hussain asked U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: “Given that hundreds were brutally killed and that families across India and the world, including here in the U.K., are still without justice, does the Prime Minister agree with his Foreign Office diplomats that Modi was directly responsible? What more does the Foreign Office know about Modi’s involvement in that grave act of ethnic cleansing?”
Sunak replied: “The U.K. Government’s position on that is clear and long standing, and it has not changed. Of course, we do not tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure that I agree at all with the characterization that the hon. gentleman has put forward.”
The second part of the documentary, which is due to broadcast on Jan. 24, could potentially be even more inflammatory. It “examines the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019. A series of controversial policies – the removal of Kashmir’s special status guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian constitution and a citizenship law that many said treated Muslims unfairly – has been accompanied by reports of violent attacks on Muslims by Hindus,” according to the BBC episode description.
“Modi and his government reject any suggestion that their policies reflect any prejudice towards Muslims, but these policies have been repeatedly criticized by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. That organization has now closed its offices in Delhi following the freezing of its bank accounts in connection with an investigation into financial irregularities, according to the Indian government, a charge rejected by Amnesty,” the description concludes.